Area resident reflects on experiences deploying as disaster relief worker

After a 12-year lull in U.S. major hurricane landfalls, Hurricane Harvey slammed into the Central Texas coast near Rockport Aug. 25, with wind speeds of 130 mph.

Hurricane Harvey damages

The town of Refugio, Texas, sustained a large amount of tree damage from Hurricane Harvey, local American Red Cross worker Mary Jo Altstaetter observed even several weeks after the hurricane whipped through that area in late August.(PHOTO | ALTSTAETTER FAMILY)

As residents attempted to recover in the days that followed, the hurricane-turned-tropicalstorm brought rains totaling 40 to 61 inches to various part of southeast Texas and southwest Louisiana, causing widespread flooding and tens of billions of dollars in damage.

On the heels of Harvey that left thousands of people displaced from their homes living in shelters and others needing access to food and clean drinking water, another major hurricane was in the headlines just several weeks later. Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys Sept. 10 as a fellow category four hurricane packing winds of 130 mph, and a hours later hitting the southwest Florida coast with wind speeds of 115 mph.

Hurricane Harvey Mary Jo

Mary Jo Altstaetter of rural Bellefontaine deployed as a volunteer with the American Red Cross to Corpus Christi, Texas, during September to assist with relief work following Hurricane Harvey. (EXAMINER PHOTO | MANDY LOEHR)

During this tumultuous hurricane year in the U.S., which later in September also would spawn a third category four U.S. landfall when Hurricane Maria pummeled the island of Puerto Rico, rural Bellefontaine resident Mary Jo Altstaetter said she received an urgent e-mail from the American Red Cross. The agency was requesting volunteers to take an expedited disaster relief course and then deploy to the affected areas.

Already an American Red Cross volunteer who had assisted with local projects, including blood drives and the Pillowcase Project emergency preparation presentations at area schools, the retired teacher said she felt like this was the perfect opportunity to meet this pressing demand and complete the disaster relief training she already was interested in. She signed up for the eight-hour training module at the Northern Miami Valley Ohio Chapter of the American Red Cross’s office in Troy.

“After I finished the training, I was asked that same day, ‘Can you deploy tomorrow?” she recounted. “Hurricane Harvey had already devastated Texas, and Hurricane Irma was about to hit the U.S., so there was an urgent need for assistance.

Read complete story and more year-end news in Thursday's Examiner
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